Managing investment properties while living overseas

Investment properties are a great idea but how stressful is it really, to keep them while you live abroad?

Well, in our first month living in Singapore we had to:
1. Buy and have a new air conditioner installed as the compressor blew at one of our properties.
2. Buy a new stove top for our unit because it started smoking from the buttons when in use. Have it installed.
3. Before or on NYE the above property, the one needing the stove, had a water leak in the ceiling.

At about 6 weeks in, just into the new year we had to replace the hot water system at the same property that needed the new air conditioner. We haven’t received the bill for the hot water system so I don’t know how much it cost. The replacement and installation is complete. In most cases, the installation is the same price or more than the item we are replacing.

The air conditioner we ordered online as it was half the price available locally. This particular property is in a small regional town. We managed to find something the required size for half the price with a longer warranty so we went with that. The stress on this was, we wanted it installed before Christmas so our tenants could get out of the heat. Christmas is a stressful time, we didn’t want a horribly hot house to ruin their day. The problem was the courier company delivered our package to the local electronics store rather than the address on the item.

Small town kindness and honesty was on our side. When the package was listed as delivered but not at the address it should be. I lodged the complaint with the company, who promptly said they don’t care. Going through the logical steps, I called the only electronics store in the town and asked if they had it. It was an international call on my Australian mobile, so it cost me about $35 for a quick call. But it put my mind at ease.

They did have it and they wouldn’t sell it because they can’t put a warranty on it. They were also happy not to charge a storage fee or anything. We had a bit of a laugh about the mixup. I let them know that either our agent or the electrician would pick it up. They were fine with that. In a bigger town or city, things wouldn’t be so easy.

That same property has had ongoing issues with the hot water heater and we have said each time lets just replace it. We were always talked out of it for some reason or another. I guess usually the electrician had attended and fixed it by that point anyway. An element here or reset the fuse there but the issues were ongoing so we knew it was on it’s way out. It was just waiting until we were away. We didn’t live locally but it does feel like you are a bit helpless when these issues arise and you are out of the country.

The unit we had been living in had a water leak through the ceiling between the floors. It appeared to be from our upstairs main bathroom and it was leaking into the lounge/dining area. Our tenant stopped using her shower and moved to the ensuite to shower. The leak didn’t return but the ceiling was damaged by the volume of water. It wasn’t a trickle it was a flow. The source of the leak hasn’t been confirmed so we haven’t repaired the roof. The leak also hasn’t returned so we don’t know if it is safe to go ahead and repair the ceiling or if we should be pulling it down and trying to find a leak. We don’t even know if it came from our apartment of it someone flooded their apartment and it just came into ours along the common pipes. So that stress is ongoing.

We also had to replace the stove. This one seemed like it was going to be a huge issue. TW wanted an induction cooktop but it turns out our electricity isn’t rated to take the demand so we had to go with another kind. It was actually super cheap. I didn’t realise they were so cheap. Installation was reasonable and easy to arrange. The great thing about the unit is the onsite building manager. He has so many contacts. He has preferred suppliers and tradies. There are people who know the building, what is required, the floor plans, those people make it easier for us to manage repairs like this. We ordered the stove top, our tenants let us know it arrived and the next day the electrician was there to install it. Nothing can be easier than that when you self manage.

Three investment properties, two with real estates and one self-managed. Real estate agents are life savers but we know the girls in our unit. We lived with them for 18 months, so we are happy to manage that lease ourselves. When they move out, that will change. We won’t know the new tenants, an agent will be better.

So how stressful is it really. Well, it is both super stressful and easy to avoid thinking about. There are no reminders here in Singapore of those things going wrong back at home. The money goes into the Australian bank account so it doesn’t affect our day to day living. We can’t see the rent coming in or the bills going out when we go to an ATM. Investment properties are as stressful as you let them be.

Well, having said that, there are some horrible owners out there. We aren’t that kind. We knew the hot water system would need to be replaced, it was annoying to have to do it now when we had said for years to do it. Though it did make us grateful for the extra years of not having to do it and time to save for one. We got 4 additional years out of it for $100 in repairs and parts across 6 or 7 call outs for it. The thought of our tenants without hot water during those times is really upsetting though.

In the summer the cold water tap is probably hot enough anyway but still, not hot enough for a bath or to clean the dishes properly. Hot enough for a comfortable temperature shower. Still, we don’t want to be the reason people are living that way. We wanted it repaired so it wouldn’t happen again and replacement seemed the logical way. It is nice to have it done now, now we can relax. It should be years and years before a similar issue arises.

The stove top, well TW complained the entire time we lived there about not having an induction cooktop. We couldn’t have an induction cooktop anyway. I no longer have to hear about how outdated the kitchen is because the building isn’t hooked up to gas and we don’t have an induction cooker. We have a new cooktop and it isn’t induction and it was the best we could get. I no longer have to hear him whinging about it. It is such a relief, you don’t even know.

I think it is possibly the excitement and adventure of living in another culture but things you think will be stressful just aren’t. If you have investments and have a bit of a buffer in the loan or savings to cover some of the bigger ticket items, you should be fine. If we had only just enough money to pay for the air conditioner which was the first thing to go wrong, the rest would have been super stressful. It did feel like it was all happening at once but it was no big deal. All we can hope for now is that not too many more things break down. If and when they do, however, I will know that the small town people will help and the building manager of our unit block has all the right contacts.

Managing investment properties from overseas is actually easier than before. If you feel you need to be available in person and have things holding you back. Deep breath, take the plunge, move. Things are never as bad as they seem once you start moving. Are your investment properties holding you back?

Life doesn’t always feel easy but we all need to stop making excuses and putting travel off. Travel as much as you can, as often as you can and don’t let the “what if’s” hold you back. You can make it work. Kids, family, work, investment properties or even just the house you live in, they aren’t reasons to stop living your life. Don’t do what so many people do and put off living until you retire. You may never get the chance or you may not have the health to enjoy it. You have today, make it count.

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